Celebrating the women in business #PressForProgress
International Women’s Day is celebrated on the March 8th every year. The day celebrates social, cultural, economical and political achievements of women, while pushing for gender parity around the world.
Women represent roughly 50% of our population. The latest report from the International Labour Office showed the global labour force rate for women is roughly 50% versus over 75% for men. The participation gap between the two sexes has worsened gradually over the last 20 years.
In sub-Saharan Africa the number of women in employment is higher (~65%), however this often reflects local poverty and a lack of social protection; meaning working for both genders is a necessity.
Challenges Worldwide, an award-winning company who work with SMEs in sub-Saharan Africa, help tackle poverty through catalysing socio-economic growth. Challenges also work in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – one of which being gender equality.
Across Ghana, Uganda and Rawanda, Challenges are working with many female business owners.
On the 10th March 2018, Challenges are hosting the WomENtrepreneur Conference in Ghana. Second of its kind, the event is aimed at empowering entrepreneurs and features a strong female line-up of keynote guest speakers.
Challenges Worldwide in Uganda has recently celebrated 3 inspirational female CEOs, Mago Hasfa (Smart Toto), Bhavya Kalsi (Kona) and Maxima Nsimenta (Livara) and explored their views, challenges faced and impact on female empowerment. These women are challenging gender inequalities not only by employing women but empowering them to work in senior roles that would normally be dominated by men in the field. The struggle is constant – firstly getting equal education opportunities and challenging the gender role assumptions, but then also in ensuring that women who do gain employment are encouraged and supported throughout their careers.
Stay tuned on our website and social media sites for the soon to be released articles and learn how these women, along with Challenges Worldwide, are tackling these issues.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Press For Progress – a movement calling for gender parity by motivating and uniting people to think, act and be gender inclusive.
What will you do to celebrate this day? Want to get involved with Challenges? Click here and see what you can do!
We know the statistics – worldwide more than 1 billion young people will enter the job market between now and 2030, 600 million jobs are needed globally over 15 years to keep current employment rate, 71 million young people are unemployed globally, the youth population in Africa will double to over 830 million by 2050, 75% of young people in developing countries are in irregular or informal employment.
Even among young people who are lucky enough to receive an education and go to university, there is no guarantee of a job at the end. In Uganda, 40,000 young people graduate university every year, with only 8,000 securing employment. Part of the issue is a lack of jobs available, the other is the skills gap between what employers want and what graduates have.
To start solving the problem two things are needed:
1. More jobs
2. The right skills to do the jobs
Which comes first?
With the job market as it is, there is little surprise that many people turn to starting a business – with 285-345 million informal enterprises in emerging economies. And, whilst starting a business can be a solution for many young people, most remain purely as livelihood businesses – remaining in the informal sector and struggling to move to a position where they lift their owner out of poverty, let alone create jobs for others.
So instead of focusing on starting a new business, why not look at the existing ones? There are 25-30 million SMEs in emerging economies, contributing up to 45% of total employment and 33% percent of GDP. If each SME gave an opportunity to two young people then youth unemployment would be virtually eradicated.
If each SME gave an opportunity to two young people then youth unemployment would be virtually eradicated.
However growing SMEs is not without its challenges, with failure rates high, access to finance difficult and leadership skills lacking. SMEs need more skilled employees who can raise the game in terms of management and leadership, financial accounting, and use of technology. These skills can help bridge the gap needed to access finance, and create more stable organisations – in turn helping them to grow and employ more people.
But which comes first? SMEs can’t grow without the right people working for them, and the right people can’t get the jobs unless they grow.
A virtuous circle
At Challenges Worldwide we’ve looked at how we can solve these problems together. Our ICS programmes place young people in an African SME for 12 weeks, pairing a UK volunteer aged 18-25 with a national from Ghana, Rwanda, Zambia or Uganda to work as Business Support Associates. We provide training in Professional Consulting and Management and Leadership that is accredited by the Chartered Management Institute. Through a structured programme these young people identify the needs of the SME, working to recommend solutions to help them grow. Longer term we utilise the information collected in our software to understand the barriers to growth and help SMEs access the finance they need.
We have spent over 15 years providing access to finance, consulting and private sector development services to SME’s in emerging economies. As you probably know, that sector is dominated by professionals with countless years of experience. So when we first started working with 18-25-year-olds we were sceptical. They arrive mostly with no training in consulting, no experience in business, and if they do have a degree it is often in an unrelated subject. Honestly, we wondered what young people could achieve. But after working with over 700 young people providing 132,000 days of onsite support to 300 enterprises – the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
Our Business Support Associates have enabled us to identify the key barriers to growth for these enterprises – through learning about enterprises from within and getting their hands dirty they’ve discovered as much, if not more than many more experienced consultants we’ve worked with.
51% addressed issues with marketing strategy
31% addressed issues with lack internal processes
38% implemented new record keeping systems
23% improved market knowledge
20% addresses a lack of human capital
Our young people have demonstrated that they can learn the right skills – in a week; that they can apply these quickly and create lasting change for themselves and the SME’s – in 12 weeks; and that these SMEs can grow – and in many cases employ them.
Each SME we work with has seen that the skills of two young people for 12 weeks is hugely valuable, and each placement has demonstrated that real-life experience in an enterprise provides more of the skills young people need to be successful in their career than months of classroom learning. Young people can start to create the jobs which will employ them.
“Each placement has demonstrated that real-life experience in an enterprise provides more of the skills young people need to be successful in their career than months of classroom learning”
We’re 0.001% of the way there. How do we connect the other 29,999,700 SMEs and 70,999,300 young people?
Challenges Worldwide work to provide innovative solutions that engage, grow and connect people to emerging opportunities for development and investment. We support young people through structured work-based placements, support enterprises to grow organisational capacity and deliver a range of consulting services enabling growth connections in trade and finance.
“Over many years the Young Enterprise Scotland Company programme has given tens of thousands of young people a great grounding in business skills and helped them to develop the associated entrepreneurial mindset. By forming this strategic alliance with Challenges Worldwide we are extending the opportunity for young people in Scotland to further develop these skills in a different and challenging environment. I would urge any young person who has benefitted from the Company Programme to take a look at the Challenges Worldwide International Citizen Service (ICS) programme where you will make a difference socially and economically.” Geoff Leask, CEO, Young Enterprise Scotland
The Next Challenge
Last year Challenges Worldwide and Young Enterprise Scotland struck an exciting partnership with the intention of accelerating enterprise based learning for young Scots. This spring has seen alumni of the YES Company Programme volunteer in African enterprises with Challenges Worldwide. Edinburgh based International Development Charity Challenges Worldwide run an International Citizen Service (ICS) programme in Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia.
The programme sees 18-25-year-olds from the UK volunteer with African SME’s for a period of 12 weeks. During that time they can gain invaluable business and life experiences whilst working towards a qualification. The authors of this article both heard about Challenges Worldwide through the newly formed partnership and can both testify that Challenges Worldwide ICS is a natural extension of the YES Company Programme.
Bruce and Jamie both share a passion for enterprise and thank the YES Company programme for igniting this passion. During their school years, Bruce was Managing Director of Alba Hampers who represented the Grampian area in the 2010 Scottish finals. Jamie completed the programme much more recently, as Company Secretary of Infinity Enterprises representing Tayside at the 2015 National finals.
“Young Enterprise gave us a solid foundation of business experience and skills for us to move forward with,” said Jamie. The range of skills picked up by working in business is illustrated by the different paths that Bruce and Jamie took after the programme.
Bruce went on to complete a Degree in Property at the University of Aberdeen and has since started his own commercial property development business. Whilst at University Bruce also volunteered as a YE Business Advisor at his former school, encouraging future generations to take full advantage of the Young Enterprise experience. Jamie has been working in Market Research since leaving school and remains a keen follower of YES.
“Young Enterprise gave us a solid foundation of business experience and skills for us to move forward with,”
Bruce and Jamie are now in Kigali, Rwanda, volunteering as Business Support Associates with Challenges Worldwide on the ICS programme. Here is our interview with them on their experience so far:
What are your thoughts on the partnership between YES and Challenges Worldwide?
The experience of the Young Enterprise Company Programme, in allowing participants to set up and run their own business within a relatively controlled environment presents an unparalleled educational opportunity in Scotland today. There is no real substitute for practical learning and that is exactly what both programmes offer in abundance. We both firmly believe that Challenges Worldwide placements are a natural progression from the YES Company Programme and when combined, put participants in a very advantageous position in terms of personal learning and for their future careers.
Please tell us about the work you will you do on a Challenges Worldwide ICS placement?
A placement with Challenges Worldwide sees UK volunteers matched with an in-country counterpart and the pair placed in a local SME that is delivering a social impact. After the initial week of in country orientation and training, volunteer pairs are assigned along with their businesses – this is where the real work starts! The first three to four weeks are spent observing and analysing the assigned business using comprehensive tools supplied by Challenges.
Thereafter recommendations are developed to aid the business in its objectives – these are unique to every business so every pair is going to encounter different challenges throughout their placement. These recommendations are then refined and presented to the senior team of the business. A strategy is also developed for how these recommendations will be implemented to maximise the impact achieved in the time left.
Do you feel you are being well supported during your placement?
Throughout the placement, there are very capable staff and team leaders on hand to aid volunteers and training is delivered following the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) syllabus for a qualification in Professional Consulting. After completing the experience, alumni have the opportunity to complete CMI qualifications at a vastly reduced rate, an offer reserved exclusively for young people learning through Challenges.
Do you need any specific business skills to take part?
No specific skills are required ahead of the training so we would encourage anyone who has a passion for international development and a willingness to help businesses develop, to apply for the programme.
How does the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme relate to the YES Company programme?
There are many similarities in the learning points taken from the two programmes but the context in which they are learnt make the programmes unique and worthwhile. The business lessons are vast and far too wide ranging to possibly cover but much like working with school-mates can be challenging, the opportunity to work in a cross-cultural environment is truly eye-opening for everyone involved. Different people, places and cultures have different norms and the process of learning and dealing with these challenges allow for a great deal of personal growth over a short period of time.
Would you recommend the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme to other young Scots currently taking part in the YES Company programme?
“From our combined experience, we can safely say that the YES Company Programme really does leave you with lasting skills and helps prepare you for a Challenges Worldwide ICS placement. The Challenges Worldwide placement will help volunteers grow personally and professionally and make them a more rounded individual. If you want to use the skills you have learnt whilst creating a positive social and economic impact, don’t hesitate to volunteer through Challenges Worldwide and be prepared to have an incredible journey!”
Green Harvest Products is a home grown small food processing business, producing their products in Kigali using Rwandan ingredients. Their brand identity is reinforced by their brand name ‘Sabana’ which means ‘sociable’. Currently, they make chilli oil, two chilli sauces (the only ones made in Rwanda) as well as a Sabana Ketchup. Challenges Worldwide Business Support Associates Jamie and Patrick will be helping in key areas such as sales and marketing and trade/export links.
SafeMotos is the localised ‘uber’ of Moto taxis within the Kigali area.They have developed an app which allows users to effortlessly hail a moto using their GPS location. SafeMotos offers the user a set price for the journey with the option to pay by card or cash and the ability to review their driver. Key safety statistics are taken from drivers smartphones to show acceleration and deceleration speeds and through the use of an insurance style algorithm, they give their drivers a safety rating. This ensures that only the safest drivers are matched with SafeMoto customers. Challenges Worldwide Business Support Associates, Bruce Morrice and Kenneth Nabimanya, are working on refining the strategy of the business and future expansions into other East African markets.
We are currently recruiting for the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme starting in January and March 2018. If you are aged between 18 and 25 you can apply for here
Until the age of approximately 18, I thought that pineapples grew on trees. To be honest, I never really gave them much thought beyond opening a tin of pineapple or eating it with cheese on sticks at a birthday party.
Luckily, Beckie reassures me that the pineapple tree misconception is quite common. Beckie works for the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU), the organisation that my business counterpart Richard and I are working with for our Challenges Worldwide placement in Kampala, Uganda. I admitted this ignorance on my part while we were sat under a gazebo, folding hundreds of leaflets for the “Productivity and Growth in Organic Value Chains” conference. If there was one place to improve my knowledge of pineapple, then this was it.
However, over the two-day event, I soon learned that this was about so much more than a tropical fruit. This event was a real landmark for the organic sector in Uganda, a sector that many of Challenges Worldwide’s chosen SMEs are working in. For this conference was a dissemination of the very first research papers produced in Uganda that focused solely on organic agriculture, and all the key players in the movement were there.
Thursday saw us meet with a wide range of students and lecturers as we manned the NOGAMU stall at Makerere University (or the Cambridge of Uganda, as Richard told me!) We handled tricky questions about where our products came from, how we knew the farmers weren’t spraying pesticides and tried our very best to convince passers-by to part with their money for an organic coffee soap.
On Friday, we attended a workshop that covered a range of practical tips for organic farmers – pest control, producing silage for cattle – but there was also much discussion on the challenges facing the organic sector in Uganda, which has to date relied heavily on the private sector, with limited government support.
It was a privilege to attend an event with representatives from governments and universities both near and far – there was the Vice-Chancellor from a Nigerian university, a representative for the Danish Ambassador and a minister from the Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.
Attending a Ugandan conference was an experience in itself – plenty of passionate disagreements, running three hours behind schedule and no soggy sandwiches for lunch – but overall one message came loud and clear. This group of people are passionate about their country, its produce and creating a strong agricultural economy through means that are sympathetic to the land and the people. There’s a momentum building and, if we can help assist a little on placement, I’m certainly pleased to be part of it.
When I get home and head to Sainsbury’s or Tesco to pick up food, I’ll see those organic pineapples and think of my friends back in Uganda and their vision for sustainable development. And I’ll know for sure that pineapples grow firmly in the ground (in rows of two, surrounded by banana trees for best results, if you’re interested)!
Since March 2017 a team of 18 volunteers from the UK and Rwanda have been working to promote the sustainable development of small to medium enterprises across Kigali, Rwanda. Challenges Worldwide International Citizen Service (ICS) volunteers work as Business Support Associates and are given business consultancy training throughout the programme. Challenges are helping to improve key areas in the businesses, building a growth platform for socially-conscious enterprises.
Challenges Worldwide is a UK private sector development organisation and its ICS programme has been running since 2013 in Ghana, Zambia and Uganda. In 2017, Challenges Worldwide expanded its programme to Rwanda to help SMEs to grow through the ICS scheme, which pairs young people from the UK and Rwanda and places them in a Kigali-based business. Through this expansion into Rwanda Challenges Worldwide aims to increase its economic and social impact within the east African region. Challenges have already been running their programme helping SMEs in Uganda since 2013.
While Challenges helps with on-site support, the organisation also aims to facilitate investment into the businesses it works with. One of the key barriers to growth for small businesses in East Africa is access to finance, so Challenges is working alongside the Business Development Fund to promote investment in some of Kigali’s most exciting small businesses.
Apart from the work they do with the businesses, Challenges volunteers also organise extra-curricular community activities. One such event is an upcoming project planned in collaboration with local NGO Root Foundation, where they will be organising a job skills day with a focus on entrepreneurship and personal development.
The Challenges Worldwide ICS programme is a great opportunity for volunteers from the UK and Rwanda and Rwandan based SMEs. By working with enterprises that have a positive social impact, Challenges aims to create a global network of businesses that can disrupt and add value, with the eventual aim of granting everyone access to quality income opportunities. Challenges are looking forward to working with the public and private sectors in Rwanda to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and contributing to the bright future of Rwanda’s businesses.
During our Challenges Worldwide ICS placement, all volunteers are involved in one of three committees. Working in our committee team is an opportunity to work with a different group of volunteers outside of our day to day work in our businesses.
The impact committee organises events to engage more with the wider community. The team building committee organises fun, relaxing and cultural activities for the volunteers. I am a member of the communications committee which gathers and produces content to showcase the team’s experience throughout our ICS placement.
A post shared by Challenges Worldwide (@challengesworldwide) on
My host home counterpart, Mzeziti, is also on the communication committee. She is passionate about raising awareness of Challenges Worldwide’s work in Zambia through radio and TV. She asked Precious, a Zambian team leader, for her contacts in local radio. Through one of these contacts, we secured a 1 hour Saturday morning slot on Pan African Radio! With less than two days’ notice, we got to work with preparing for our first radio interview, with the support of Team Leader Ari and the Challenges staff in Lusaka.
Pan African Radio
The audience of Pan African Radio’s Saturday morning show is the business community in Zambia. We were excited the share Challenges’ work with local small to medium enterprises (SMEs). Challenges’ have given business support to 105 local businesses so far in their work to support Zambia’s economic growth. The radio host was particularly interested in our experience of volunteering in Zambia and the training we receive. It was a fantastic opportunity to promote Challenges to Zambians who may get involved in the future, either as a volunteer, enterprise or host home!
Through my involvement with the committee, I have already developed my verbal communication and teamwork skills. I have had experience in delegating tasks and chairing our team meetings. My work on the Challenges Worldwide ICS communications committee has given me the valuable opportunity to contribute to different aspects of the ICS experience. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to speak live on Pan African Radio!!
‘So how many people from Copwaste work at the dump?’
‘Just the two of us’, replies the dump attendant.
‘Who are the rest of these guys?’, I ask gesturing to about twenty guys loitering around the attendant’s hut. They’re all flecked with mud and wearing welly boots that look about three sizes too big.
‘They come here and collect rubbish that they can salvage. They roam about looking for odd bits of metal, clothes, electrical items, anything that they might be able to sell on. But mostly they just wait for the trucks to arrive’.
‘What do they do when the trucks arrive?’
‘They run’, states the attendant.
Right on cue a truck turns off the busy road and rolls into the dump site. In a split second, there is frenzied movement all around us as the previously docile men spring into life and run after the truck. They clamber aboard as the truck steadily rumbles toward the far end of the dump site. The late starters have the unenviable task of racing through the squelchy, knee deep puddles that have gathered on the road running through the site in the rainy season. The truck has taken on six new passengers as the men frantically set about tossing anything they think might be of worth from the truck’s waste bucket overboard. They disappear into the distance as the truck gets down to the bottom of the site to unload its rubbish. Fifteen minutes later, the truck and it’s passengers return, some are empty handed but others clutch pieces of old piping and scrap bits of metal. As the truck turns back onto the highway, the men hop off and examine their recovered treasures.
‘What will you do with this stuff?’, I ask one who looks happy with a lead piece of piping he has recovered.
‘Men come to the site and we sell these things to them’, he replies.
‘Do you know what the men do with the stuff you sell them?’, I enquire.
‘Not really, maybe the take it to markets, maybe they use it for parts, who knows?’, he responds.
In a country where there is precious little recycling activity, there’s a good case for suggesting that these men working at the dump are amongst Zambia’s recycling pioneers. Just walking around the dump site it’s easy to notice a whole host of recyclable goods lying as landfill waste, ranging from glass bottles to old clothes. An effective recycling movement in Zambia is limited by lack of resources and also a prevailing waste disposal culture that pays very little credence to the environmental impact of unsustainable rubbish disposal. Copwaste, the company I’m doing my Challenges Worldwide ICS placement with, readily admits that a lack of resources is holding it back from hitting recycling targets that it has set for itself. So for now the only recycling effort is coming on the ground, at the dump site, from the group of men sifting through the rubbish mounds.
I asked the Copwaste attendant if it was a good thing that these men worked on the site:
In answer to my questions, he said: ‘In some ways, yes because they are able to recover and reuse waste that would have otherwise gone into landfill but in other ways, no.’
‘Why would you say it’s not a good thing that they’re here?’
‘Well, they seem to have an incomplete understanding of what is available to be salvaged. For example the other month they completely stripped down our attendant’s hut and before that they removed the batteries from our digger that moves the rubbish around the site’.
In a country where there is precious little recycling activity, there’s a good case for suggesting that these men working at the dump are amongst Zambia’s recycling pioneers.
I guess there’s still a fine line between pioneering and plain stealing.
Isn’t it time we started talking about prosperity not poverty in relation to Africa?
As Challenges Enterprise Portfolio Director, I was delighted to be invited to present and join a panel discussion as part of SCVO’s The Gathering 2017 in Glasgow last week to talk about how Challenges are showcasing innovation and tech for good. In our case the emphasis on prosperity and the leapfrogging opportunity that we believe technology can play in growing African economies such as Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda where I oversee a growing portfolio of SME’s.
The Gathering is the only event of its kind in Scotland. It’s a unique opportunity for people in the third sector to meet, connect and share ideas. It’s also a great way to form new partnerships and learn from a wide range of colleagues. Since 2014 it has attracted 38,148visitors, brought together 1,452 exhibitors and delivered 548 workshop events.
It was exciting to talk to a room of engaged people about the potential for the African SMEs and future leaders we support through our programming. Having spent the night before being bombarded with the lazy shock marketing techniques of unnamed NGOs asking for my money in relation to the famine in South Sudan, it was a perfect opportunity to challenge the common perceptions about Africa.
Since 1999, Challenges has taken an innovative approach to Enterprise development working in 40 countries around the world. This has lead to us now embracing technology fully across our enterprise and professional development work. Since 2014, we have been able to bring +300 SME into a cloud-based performance platform allowing enterprises to track and share KPIs to access trade and finance markets….
Enjoy the video! I start at 30 mins!
Watch this space for even more technology developments at Challenges and our markets but most importantly, sharing success stories.
Since 2014, Challenges Worldwide has provided over 80 days of onsite support to 120 enterprises in Ghana alone. Here are just a few of the products from some of the enterprises we are continuing to engage with as they grow. It is our long-term aim to connect these and future enterprises to quality opportunities for trade and finance.
Shea butter soap from Ele Agbe
Ele Agbe, meaning “God is alive”, has been led for over 20 years by founder and entrepreneur Comfort Adjahoe-Jennings. The business sells shea butter cosmetics, handmade jewellery, and locally woven baskets. Comfort sources all of her products and raw materials from women-led cooperatives in Northern and Eastern Ghana, and sells through an outlet in Accra with export to the U.S. and Canada.
Challenges has connected Ele Agbe with a London-based natural cosmetics company, PoaPoa, which has been distributing and testing several of the enterprise’s shea products in the UK market for the first time. These include shea butter creams, soaps and lip balm.
Challenges Worldwide worked with Ele Agbe in Accra, Ghana, from January to April 2016.
Coconut shell crafts from Sakoi Vision Enterprise
Samuel Akoi and his two sons, Ebenezer and Benjamin, run a workshop where local craftsmen cut, smooth and shape coconut shells into artisanal and household items such as bowls, cups, and containers. These products are sold wholesale to other artisanal businesses, as well as theatres and cosmetics companies.
Sakoi Vision trains and employs young people from the Oyibi area in Accra where it is based. Each coconut shell product is unique and gets its dark colour from being treated with Sakoi Vision’s own coconut oil.
Challenges Worldwide worked with Sakoi Vision in Accra, Ghana, from June to September 2016.
Black soap from Skin Gourmet
Skin Gourmet is a small business founded by Violet Awo Amoabeng, a young woman with a passion for raw and pure skin care from nature, an eye for simple and beautiful design, and years of banking experience to set up her business and its local supply chains.
Skin Gourmet sells cosmetics and health foods made from natural products, such as shea butter, coconut oil, moringa leaves, and baobab fruit.
Black soap, also called African Black Soap, is soap made from the ash of locally harvested plants and barks such a plantain, cocoa pods, palm tree leaves, and shea tree bark. It is traditionally made in West Africa. Black soap has natural exfoliating qualities, is known for treating oily skin, and gently cleanses all skin types. Coconut oil and shea butter are often added for extra hydration.
Challenges Worldwide is working with Skin Gourmet in Accra, Ghana, from February to April 2017.
Border Farmer’s Co-operative is home to many dedicated employees, but none quite as enthusiastic as Patson Musukwa, the organisation’s main salesman. Running since 1980, and located in Kitwe’s industrial area, the cooperative specialises in selling agricultural products and services to farmers across the Copperbelt. As the first point of contact for customers seeking assistance and advice, Patson has a crucial role and I’m interested to hear his take on the business, its products, and the challenges facing the agricultural sector in Zambia.
I begin by asking for some basic information about himself. With a beaming smile and a sly giggle, he lists his favourite hobbies as watching football, resting and singing. He’s recently taken up running to lose weight and has even persuaded a few of his colleagues to join him in early-evening jogs after work. “When you feel fit, you’re more likely to be happy,” he adds with a grin.
However, for Patson, his favourite passion is his work. With genuine enthusiasm, he starts recounting examples of times he’s helped customers with their choice of veterinary products, hardware equipment, and even gardening tools. “I’m the face of the business,” he states confidently. “I love interacting with customers and I’ve gradually come to build up a good relationship with them. He giggles again. “Trust is everything here.”
When asked about the Zambian economy, Patson is calm and rational in his response. “We need to remember this is a global issue. The world is facing huge challenges at the moment and Zambia’s not immune to those.” However, he states that the country’s traditional agricultural sector has been hit particularly hard by the downward turn in the economy and this has led to many farmers going bankrupt.
We take a break to get a photo and Patson beckons me over to the warehouse gates. Suddenly, he leaps upwards and clasps a metal rail high overhead with both hands. There’s a deafening sound of screeching metal as Patson kicks out his legs and attempts to lift his full body weight upwards. “I’m getting better at pull-ups,” he chuckles to me below. Astonished, I can only nod.
We quickly resume and I ask him for his opinion on the state of the co-operative. He admits that the slump in the economy has greatly affected business with declining sales and a drop off in customer numbers. Yet he’s cautiously optimistic about the future of Border Farmer’s, predicting that the current situation is only temporary and that sales will soon improve.
After discussing the weak condition of the agricultural sector and the enterprise’s current woes, we leave on a lighter note.
“Shoprite in town or at the mall?”
Patson looks pensive. “Once I would have said in town,” he begins carefully. “But now neither are much good. The best Shoprite is actually located on Copperbelt Hill. It’s less busy and the staff seem friendlier.” He pauses. “Yes, they’re definitely more helpful.”
Clearly, for Patson, customer service is never too far from his mind.